Cutscene: Mission Control
Well, he just wasn't sure what to think about what that could really mean right now.
It was really amazing how sometimes — usually the absolute worst of times — things you didn't notice or didn't even care about came back to bite you hard. Small things that you'd overlooked with the assumption that you'd never end up even thinking about them again just forced their way into the front of situations where they end up being important in a big way.
Just some restaurant downtown. Nothing big.
That was all Greg had said in the text.
Six simple words to close out a text conversation that was dragging on too long anyway.
Sparky hadn't pressed Greg for more information and Greg hadn't bothered to inundate him with all the details of his planned date with the trophy-wife-in-training the blond called his girlfriend. While Greg was usually the type to dump that sort of information on someone, he hadn't bothered with Sparky that morning, likely because he knew his friend couldn't care less about pointless shit like that in the first place.
It's not like he was exactly wrong either, at least not at the time. Sparky hadn't had any real interest in those details in the first place, and both of them were well aware that he had been asking just to ask, not because he really cared much about where Greg was taking the bimbo to stuff her face.
Just some restaurant downtown. Nothing big.
Six simple words made overwhelmingly foreboding by everything else that had happened several long hours ago. Sparky sighed, palming his forehead as he let himself lean back, sinking further into the couch.
There were dozens of outgoing calls and texts on Sparky's call history, all of them directed towards Greg's number. Sparky had made the first when the news of the bombing reached him through nothing more than a simple offhand comment his dad had made.
Each attempted call had gone to voicemail after a single ring; Not something that eased Sparky's worries in the slightest. As a general rule, Greg was one to always pick up his phone when he got a call, considering the only people that ever called him with any regularity were his own mother, Sparky himself, and more recently, Emma.
A few dozen calls going straight to voicemail did not sit well with Sparky at all but he didn't let that make up his mind for him. He couldn't just accept something like that… not without making sure, at least.
Calling Greg's mother had been a thought that came to him, but that was made pointless by the simple fact that Sparky didn't even have her number in the first place and he doubted she had his number either.
"..." A low sigh left him, Sparky blinking slowly as he felt exhaustion pulling at his eyelids, the artificial lighting of the device in his hand doing its best to keep him awake. The brightness of the screen currently searing Sparky's unprotected eyes was assisted only by the television he currently sat in front of, the large device continuing its muted broadcast. The sole alternative source of illumination in the dark living room, just meters away, was doing the same thing it had from the moment Sparky had heard of what happened, nothing but broadcasting Brockton's local news coverage of events from earlier in the day.
Sparky glanced up again, gaze not rising high enough to focus on the TV but instead settling on the coffee table in front of him. A glass of water sat there, ice melted completely and the outside beaded with condensation, right next to a small orange pill bottle with his name typed onto the little strip of paper wrapped around it. He shook his head, eyes flicking back up to the TV a moment later.
Since a little after three in the afternoon, he hadn't bothered to really move from his spot, taking up space directly in front of the television wearing nothing but the same baggy long-sleeved shirt and flannel bottoms he had woken up in. Neither of his parents seemed to get why he was so focused on the news coverage, his mom busy with her sculptures and his dad simply treating it as any other Sunday.
Safe in the assumption that cape issues never really crossed over into residential areas, at least in the Bay, his parents didn't even bother paying attention to the news reports. They weren't exactly alone in that belief either; Sparky knew that several of their neighbors didn't seem to care about cape stuff as long as it didn't hurt them. The most interest his father seemed to show was checking to see if his restaurant - not the same one Greg was supposed to have gone to - was the one that got hit and, after that, calling his workers one by one to tell them not to bother coming in tomorrow. Thankfully, they did as they always did and left him to his own devices. Sparky didn't think he could manage to think up an excuse for why he was so invested in the erratic bombings going on in the city without mentioning Greg.
It would have been a lie to say that part of him hadn't wanted to head out and search for Greg in the rubble of that demolished restaurant, just one of several places in the Downtown area that had been struck in the first wave of explosions. The rest of him knew how horrible of a plan that was, especially with parts of the city being lit up every hour or so with a new wave of explosions.
Phone still in the palm of his hand, Sparky let his arm hang down the front of the couch as he fully laid himself down, back of his head resting on a pillow propped up by the armrest. With an unnecessarily loud exhale, he sighed again and raised his other hand to rub his face with an open palm.
This entire day had been hell.
Twelve hours since that fucking explosion and then another one later at the hospital and no fucking sign of Greg anywhere.
He didn't pick up his phone.
He didn't answer his texts.
Sparky had been desperate enough to send him a message on PHO, not that he expected Greg to even see it in the first place.
Nothing about today made sense. The news didn't help Sparky piece together much, what with every local news station he could find repeating the same canned bullshit that screamed to him of a media lockdown. Somebody was trying to keep actual information from getting out and from what PHO had been saying, Sparky could guess what three letters made up their name.
It was absolutely insane that he had to turn to a bunch of shitposters on a forum to get actual information on what people were calling the "biggest villain assault on Brockton Bay since the Teeth were still fucking around."
Rumors were flying all over the place about each attack, each more confusing than the last. Some were saying that Triumph got turned into a pincushion, others implying that someone that (probably, maybe, kinda sorta) looked like a shorter Manpower was seen escaping from the scene in one of the first waves of bombing, and even more arguing that they saw what without a doubt had to be a zombie near downtown, the thing somehow managing to move with a body more broken than anything they'd ever seen. Sparky refused to think about how much that description fit Greg the last time his friend had nonchalantly returned from a cape fight.
Crazy rumors aside, all of them had one common denominator; a mention of the ABB.
Especially now that Oni Lee was the boss.
Sparky shook his head slowly and turned his gaze up at the ceiling, letting his eyes glaze over as he stared at nothing. A whole twelve hours without a word from Greg and Oni Lee on a bombing spree. The only real outcome was just… too terrifying to think about.
He shut his eyes, trying hard to push those thoughts out of his mind. Where are you, G?
Drowsy as he was, Sparky couldn't help but jump slightly as the phone in his hand buzzed, waking him enough to force a few alert blinks out of him. The long-haired boy glanced down at the device, still blinking as he raised the thing to his face. As he brought it up to eye level, the screen went black for a second before jerkily bringing up a caller ID screen.
Unknown? His one open eye widened slightly, confused as to exactly who would be calling him from a restricted number. He stared at the screen tiredly for a few moments before shaking his head, denying the call with a single tap on the screen. I can't deal with robo-call shit right now.
With that done, Sparky laid the phone down on the floor and nestled his head deeper into the pillow, turning his head away from the light of the television as it continued to broadcast. A few seconds later, the phone started up again, buzzing on the wood floor to create a sound reminiscent of a power drill. Come on…
Teeth gritted, Sparky pushed his head further into the pillow, doing his best to ignore the noise. He didn't want to risk turning his phone off or putting it on silent for obvious reasons but having to deal with annoyances like spam phone calls was not something he was in the mood for right now.
Pretending like the sound didn't irritate him worked long enough for the call to end, Spark finally maging to relax as it did, only for it to start up again without fail. Fucking...
Amber eyes opened as Sparky turned to face the other direction, the television once again introducing a ray of artificial light directly into his unprotected eyes. Wincing, the teen shot a glare down at his cheap smartphone as if it had just insulted his mother. Son of a…
He stared at it for a long moment, scowl losing the majority of its heat the longer he held the vibrating phone. Before too long, he couldn't even manage to stay angry anymore, a mix of tiredness and stress sapping away any energy he could have used towards maintaining his annoyance.
"Fuck it," he muttered to himself.
With a defeated sigh, Sparky tapped the green phone icon to accept the call and opened his mouth, preparing to deliver the most scathing "Hello" that had ever crossed his lips.
However, before he could manage that, a voice on the other end spoke first, quickly shocking him into silence.
The teen on the couch blinked, mouth suddenly dry as he heard a voice that he honestly wasn't expecting. Phone trembling slightly in his hand, Sparky licked his lips as his finger tapped the speaker icon on his phone.
"You there, bud?"
Holy… A wave of relief washed over him as he heard the voice again, eyes widening as a full day of stress almost seemed to fall away from his shoulders. "...Greg?" He licked dry lips again as he asked the question with a breathless voice struggling not to shake. "Brah, is… is that really you?"
"What kind of question is that, Sparks?" Greg replied, tone oddly light. "How many other teenage boys call you up at three in the morning? Should I be jealous?"
"Y-you..." Sparky let out a shuddering laugh as he spoke. "You asshole. You would be the one to call me this time of night to crack a stupid-ass joke." He shook his head, dropping his face into an open palm a moment later. "It's not even funny, man."
"I mean, to me it was."
"Not the fucking joke," Sparky replied back, lifting his head so as not to muffle his words. He licked his lips again, another relieved laugh escaping him. "You had me thinking you were dead, man."
There was silence for a long moment as he waited for Greg to respond to what he just said to him. As the odd silence continued, Sparky decided to break it, unsure exactly what had his friend so silent. "Greg? You there, brah?"
"...Uh, yeah. Sorry, uh… Just…" Greg paused, letting out a breath of his own before continuing. "Just kinda funny to hear you say that… that's all."
Sparky blinked, unsure of how to take that response. "Oh… o-okay, I'm just glad you're okay, man. Honest," he nodded along with his words, a smile creeping its way onto his face despite his tiredness. "You had me scared, brah. Twelve hours without picking up your phone once? On a day like today?" Another laugh passed his lips. "I seriously thought you were dead. What's up with your phone, man?"
"It… broke. Yeah, it broke. Had to borrow this one from someone else. They weren't really using it at the moment," the blond laughed in tandem with his friend, Sparky stopping his own laugh rather quickly as he heard Greg's. As the sound came through his phone's tinny speaker, he couldn't shake the fact that something sounded… off about Greg's voice, his laughter most particularly. It felt like it was missing… something, something that Sparky couldn't quite put into words.
"Anyway, I'm… Huh," Greg let out an audible sigh, muttering something under his breath that Sparky couldn't quite catch. "I'm perfectly fine, Sparks. Better than ever, really. This whole day's been one hell of an eye-opener for me, honest."
Eye-opener? Sparky blinked, relieved smile slowly inverting at Greg's confusing words. "Dude… the whole city's been a minefield all day. People… people died, man."
"Preaching to the choir here, man. I get that."
Preaching… what? Once again confused by Greg's odd choice of words, Sparky ran a hand through his hair and shook his head before letting out a sigh. Let me just change the subject. "So, what's been up with you all day, brah? Kinda had me freaking out when you didn't pick up."
"I was downtown."
"Downtown?" Sparky repeated, eyes widening. He leaned forward on the couch again, raising the phone at an angle to his mouth as he continued speaking. "All day? Shit, that's crazy, man. You had to be ri-"
"Right in the middle of the explosions, yeah," Greg interrupted, finishing Sparky's sentence for him. "One went off right on top of me too."
It was amazing how one sentence said in the most flippant way could change the entire tone of a conversation in mere seconds. Amber eyes blinked a few times as Sparky actually pulled his head away from the phone in front of him as if recoiling from it. What?
"...What?!" Sparky flinched as he echoed his thoughts far louder than he expected, control of his own voice torn away from him from sheer surprise. His gaze flicked up toward the stairs, listening for any sound of movement from his parents upstairs. When none came, he returned his full focus to the phone in front of his face. "What did you just say?"
"I said, one went off right on top of me," Greg continued, tone as nonchalant as ever. "The restaurant off of Rose Park Boulevard. You probably saw it on the news. I know I did."
Sparky had, in fact, seen it on the news. Even if he hadn't seen it before, glancing up right now at the television would have told him everything he needed to know about that explosion. "Okay, are you… Are…" Sparky shut his eyes, muttering to himself as he tried to think of anything to say that didn't have the words, "Are", "You", and "Okay", especially in that order.
Just say something.
"G…" he tried again, hoping this time would actually be different. "Greg..."
"Am I okay?" Once again, the words were taken right out of Sparky's mouth, the long-haired boy letting out another relieved sigh at not having been the one to say it. "Yeah, I'm perfectly fine. Like I said, better than ever. The restaurant bomb barely did anything to me."
"That's… that's good... " Sparky replied, voice still low. He couldn't help but be glad about that, despite having the estimated death toll from what the news was calling the 'first wave' staring him in the face. He was about to quickly change the subject again when something about Greg's statement clicked in his mind, the on-screen image of the half-collapsed restaurant spurring another question. "G, I know you said that…" He paused, closing his eyes for a moment as he took a low breath, exhaling through his mouth in an attempt to get his thoughts under control. "I know you said that you're okay but… didn't you take Emma there on a date?"
"I did, yeah."
"Okay, that's… that's good, brah." The cheer in Greg's tone helped ease the more pessimistic thought that just a moment ago Sparky felt like he was struggling with. "For a moment, I was actually…" He clicked his tongue, letting out a breath with a little bit of nervous laughter slipping out with it. "Okay, this is gonna sound kinda weird… Don't laugh, but for a second — like, the tiniest second —"
Sparky cut himself off with another burst of awkward, yet quiet, laughter, unsure why it was taking him so much effort to just ask his friend a simple question. He stood up from the couch, beginning to pace in front of the couch, unsettled by the thoughts rattling around in his own head. "Forget about it, man. It doesn't even matter anymore. You're fine, so everything's… fine."
"No, go ahead. Ask me whatever."
Sparky pressed his lips together, a slight humming sound escaping him for a moment before he shook his head again. "...Okay, look, I was actually worried about your ginger for a second, but if you're cool, she has to be okay…"
For a long moment, there was silence on the other side of the line, Sparky's smile dipping into a frown as Greg remained uncharacteristically quiet. "...Dude?"
"Yeah, yeah... I know, Sparky." Hearing a sigh from Greg, Sparky's eyebrows furrowed, the other boy deeply confused by the way this conversation was going. "Just... I know, okay."
"Greg, wh-" Before he could finish his question, Greg cut in again.
"Emma's dead, Sparky."
The candor in Greg's tone sent the conversation off the rails completely, grinding Sparky's thoughts to a halt as a consequence. The long-haired boy's fingers grew slack around his phone as he felt his chest tighten, blood running cold at that morbid announcement. His legs seemed to fall out from under him and a moment later, Sparky found himself on the couch again, eyes blinking incessantly as he tried to process what the voice of his friend on the other end of the phone said to him.
"My mom's gone too," Greg continued speaking with a flippancy that was more than jarring, each new announcement treated with no real substance as they passed his lips. While he no longer sounded as cheerful as he did before, the voice on the other end came off far too calm for the news he just delivered. "But Emma… yeah, odds are good the second blast finished the j-"
"Greg!" Sparky's voice left him in a hiss, shock and confusion taking the place of what would normally be a tone he only used in anger or annoyance. "Your m-mom? Emma? Second blast? Seriously, what the fuck are you talking about?"
"The bombs. The… the first one was… uh, d-during my date. Then I got Emma to the hospital. I met my mom there and then, that was when the next bomb hit." Greg let out an audible sigh, the exhale oddly forceful. "Right there."
"G…" This was…
Jesus fuck, this was bad.
An understatement, of course, but Sparky couldn't get his thoughts in any semblance of order right now. "Brah… your mom… Are you s-" Sparky quickly shut that down, well aware that asking Greg if he was sure about his own mother's passing was just not the right idea. "Look, I-I don't know what to s-"
"Don't." Greg interrupted yet again, quickly shutting down Sparky's faltering attempt to console him over the phone. "Seriously, I don't need you to do any of that. I'm perfectly fine."
"Dude, how… You just told me your mom is dead! I… I don't know how can you just say something like th-"
A hand went through his hair again, Sparky fighting the urge to rip the strands out by their roots out of pure frustration. "What?"
"I don't need to talk and I don't need to cry. I don't need any of that, man." Greg repeated again, enunciating each word to his friend in a steady voice. "I'm calm, I'm focused and I'm perfectly fine."
Even with everything else running through his mind, Sparky couldn't help but notice how the little bit of cheer still remaining continued to bleed out of Greg's tone with each word, shifting his nonchalance into a much more empty sort of indifference. "Okay. I don't believe you, but okay, What… what do you need from me?"
"I just need your help."
"My… my help?" Sparky bit back a stress-filled groan, thoughts in a rush from every bomb Greg had just dropped on him and the deeper implications in his friend's words. His free hand raked through his hair again, fingers digging into his scalp as he let out another breath. "What… Seriously, how the hell am I supposed to help with… with… something like this?"
There was silence for a little while, Greg not answering despite the sounds of his breathing still audible through the speakerphone. As it went on, Sparky's eyes began to widen as it slowly began to dawn on him what Greg's intentions could be, especially when he considered what had happened not too long ago. "Greg…"
"... Dude... please tell me you're not thinking about getting… getting revenge," Sparky muttered, already worried over what he feared Greg would do. The silence continued to stretch, Greg not even giving him so much as a sigh. "Seriously, G... tell me you're not gonna do it."
After a few seconds more, Sparky sat up on the couch with his knees under him, shaking his head as Greg's silence stretched on. "Greg… please? Come on, I kinda need an answer here. Otherwise, I might lose my shit."
Finally, Sparky heard a sigh, the blond on the other side taking in a breath as he spoke, "Look, Sparky, the ABB need to go down and I-"
"No." His response was as firm as the iron grip he currently had on his smartphone, the long-haired boy gritting his teeth. "No. You're not gonna get yourself killed with this. I know you're pissed, man. I am too, but… but you can't just do this."
"Dude!" His voice shifted to a whispered growl, weeks of frustration at his friend given life in one word. Sparky's gaze darted to the stairs, again worried his sudden outburst might have woken his parents. When he heard nothing but the sound of his dad's rumbling snores, the long-haired boy continued, albeit in a much lower tone of voice.
"No, listen. You're not gonna do this. Most of the city's on goddamn lockdown because of these explosions everywhere and you want to talk about wading into this?"
Sparky found himself caught up in his own emotion, one hand gesturing wildly in front of him as he continued to unload on the other boy. "You barely won against Lung literally six days ago and you want to take on the rest of the ABB when they're backed with Tinker shit? What in the actual hell, man?"
Greg's long silence only served to irritate Sparky further, the olive-skinned boy growing more irate by the second as he continued to speak. "I mean, fuck! What the fuck?"
Shaking his head, Sparky let out several deep breaths in an attempt to pull himself back. "Do you ever just... I dunno, fuckin' stop and think, bruh? Like, 'What if I fuckin' die 'cause of the stupid shit I get myself into?' Right?" A single hand gestured wildly in front of him, the boy sitting up on the couch as a surge of worry and frustration cleared away the remaining sleep from his eyes. "That ring any bells?"
Sparky combed a hand through his hair, shaking his head again, unsure of what else to say as he took in another deep breath. Sighing, he tossed his head back and spoke again, voice much lower this time. "Look, bruh... G, people care about you, man. You know…" He licked his lips, unsure of what he was saying but unwilling to stop. "Like, think about how boring shit would be for me if you were gone. Do you… fuck..."
Sparky bit his lip, shutting his eyes for a moment as he struggled whether to say what threatened to slip free. After a moment, he shook his head again, his voice nearly cracking as he started to speak again. "D-d… d'you think your mom would want you to just… just throw away your life like that?"
Sparky blinked as he heard Greg's breath hitch on the phone, the other boy letting out a low grunt as if someone physically struck him. "...Greg?"
"...You okay, man?" A sinking feeling seemed to be making its way into Sparky's stomach at Greg's continued silence, his reaction to Sparky's mention of his mom somewhat worrying.
"... People are dying and you're asking me dumb questions."
Sparky couldn't fight the wince as Greg replied back, his voice emptier than ever and lacking any sense of real emotion. "Dude, that's not what I m..."
"Then what did you mean?"
The question hit Sparky hard. He knew that what he asked wasn't… wasn't the best thing he could have said to his friend right now, but he needed to get Greg to listen. He needed him to see this wasn't the way to go.
Still, he regretted it. With a sigh, Sparky answered back, "I just wanted to talk, to understand how you feel right now… Okay, brah? You should be a mess right now and I don't think it's okay that you sound real dead right now. I'm sorry, but it's true."
"... How I feel? You wanna know how I feel?"
Sparky's eyes widened at the hint of annoyance he could hear in Greg's voice, the first hint of real emotion that he could detect in this entire conversation. In a voice barely above a quiet mutter, he replied, "...Yeah, dude."
"Okay… I'm angry. Are you happy now?" Greg began, his voice flitting between rising annoyance and placid monotone every other word. "I'm so angry that I want to hit someone until my hand breaks and then just keep hitting them until I don't know who's hurt worse. I want to break jaws and legs and arms and spines and every other part of their body and I don't ever want to stop."
I'm angry that my mom's gone. I'm angry that everything I did to save Emma was pointless. I'm angry that I wasn't good enough to save anyone. I'm angry that you're making me say this and I'm angry that I'm angry at you. Most of all, I'm pissed that the ABB is still around and my mom and Emma aren't."
Shit. Sparky held back another wince, already beginning to regret pushing Greg this far.
"I've never been this angry before and the only thing that's keeping me calm right now is something that I don't really understand. So, either you're gonna help me or keep asking me questions," Greg continued his pattern of cutting Sparky off, shutting down his attempted apology as he returned to the empty voice, even that slight annoyance choked to nothing. "I just want to know why you aren't angry too."
Sparky sat in silence for a few moments, unsure how to respond to all that. He didn't even know if it was possible to say anything to something like that.
Because I'm scared, he couldn't say.
Fucking. Hell. Sparky brought a hand to his face, kneading his forehead for a moment before he could bring himself to say the only thing he could.
Sparky let out another sigh and shut his eyes, glancing up at the small bottle on the coffee table just meters away. He stared at it for a moment that seemed to stretch on for far too long but in the end, the long-haired boy simply shook his head and tapped the speaker icon on his phone as he raised the device to his ear.
"Just tell me what you need."
– o – o – o – o – o – o – o –